“Professional baseball is dead, killed by the greed of the players and owners.”
— New York Times, Sept. 11, 1918
“We’ll play- for the sake of the wounded sailors and soldiers who are in the grandstands.”
— Harry Hooper, Red Sox outfielder
In two weeks, on the 4th of July, I’ll be in one of my favorite places — Philips Glen for the Central Ohio Symphony 4th of July concert. On the long list of things I love about my adopted hometown of Delaware, the Symphony is right up at the top. In particular, I’ll be looking forward to the annual performance of the “1812 Overture,” and to the percussive charges that play the role of the canons.
As is the Symphony’s tradition, the 4th of July concert will begin with the orchestra playing our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The tune, “To Anacreon in Heaven,” was written by British composer and church organist John Stafford Smith sometime in the 1770s. Orchestral settings are always stirring, and in modern America, often heard at the opening of sporting events.
Frequently, at those sporting events, there is a tiny smattering of voices singing the words to the anthem, whether there is a singer performing or when the rendition is purely instrumental. If the weather is good for the 4th of July, the Symphony concert can draw a crowd of 5,000 or more, and they are a group that sings along enthusiastically when the anthem is played.
I had the chance last week to attend my favorite sporting event — a Cleveland Indians game — and was reminded again of the origins of the playing of the national anthem at the start of sporting events, and its connection to our national pastime.
Major League Baseball was still reeling from the Black Sox scandal of 1917 when the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs met for the 1918 World Series. World War I was winding to a close (the Armistice was just two months away) and many American veterans had returned home and were in attendance at Fenway Park in Boston and Comiskey Park in Chicago (Wrigley Field was deemed too small and so the Cubs’ home World Series games were played at Comiskey).
During the seventh-inning stretch of game one in Chicago, the stadium band launched into a performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” in order to honor the veterans in attendance. It is the first recorded playing of the song at a ball game and happened some 13 years before the song would become the nation’s official national anthem. It was later in the series, however (and for less pure reasons), that the tradition of playing the song before games would begin.
Fifty-five years before the advent of free agency in baseball, the players played for what the owners would offer them. Seeing the large crowds at the stadiums for the series, and aware that the owners would bringing in a healthy sum at the ticket gate, Red Sox outfielder Harry Hooper rallied his teammates to take a stand for a larger share of the World Series income. The starting time of game five came and went without the players taking the field. Negotiations continued for more than an hour before Hooper agreed that they shouldn’t keep the war veterans waiting any longer and the players agreed to play.
Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, remembering the performance in Chicago in game one, instructed the band in Boston to play the anthem. The 15,238 in the crowd rose to their feet, removed their caps and joined in singing. The Cubs won that game, but the Red Sox were victorious the following day to finish off their last World Series championship for 86 years.
On Sept. 11, 1918, the New York Times story about game five was headlined, “National Anthem Opens the Affray” and began with the line, “The Band played the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ while the players and spectators stood with bared heads.” A tradition was born that continues to this day at sporting events and symphony concerts alike.
The Central Ohio Symphony’s 4th of July concert starts at 7:30 p.m. and is immediately followed by the City of Delaware’s fireworks display. The concert is on Philips Glen at Ohio Wesleyan University and is free. The music this year includes the theme from Jurassic Park, music from James Bond films, selections from Hamilton, and, of course, the 1812 Overture!